DI RETURN ROAD: NHRA SpringNationals
This one meant a little more for Brittany Force.
The roller-coaster that hit a tremendous high by clinching a Top Fuel world championship at Pomona last year also included a big-time low with a major crash at Pomona to start this season.
While Force still doesn’t feel quite 100 percent following the crash, she’s officially back and ready to defend her championship after an emotional win at the NHRA SpringNationals this weekend in Houston.
She beat Terry McMillen in the final round, extracting some revenge after her red-light loss to McMillen last year in Vegas, running 3.762 at 299.46 mph to set off a memorable celebration.
“This is a big win for us because our season has been so up and down. Our wreck in Pomona was a tough start,” Force said. “Leaving Pomona last season we were on a huge high. We won the championship and that is something every driver dreams about. We were able to do that and then coming out to the opening race of the season at the same track in Pomona it was the ultimate low. It was really tough in Phoenix getting back in that car. My guys knew it and for me I didn’t care about winning the race. All I cared about was getting back in the car and making runs. Gainesville was when I really felt like it was game on. This win is big for us. It puts Pomona behind us and it pushes us towards another championship. It’s because of the support system I have around me that got us here today.”
Force insists she feels great, just more than two months after the crash that destroyed a brand-new dragster she was excited to debut in 2018.
But that experience seems to be behind her, both mentally and physically, and the early-season win did wonders for the team.
On the weekend that saw her iconic father, John Force, fail to qualify for the first time in 222 races, Brittany Force provided something special, beating veterans Doug Kalitta and Tony Schumacher to reach the final.
She also debuted a new dragster in Houston, moving up to seventh in points with Force firmly set on improving in that regard over the next two weekends.
“It took a couple races to kind of get that dialed in and put this new car together and it all kind of came together,” Top Fuel consultant Alan Johnson said. “It’s extremely important to get that win, to get that monkey off her back. She has confidence now, the crew has confidence. We’re looking to do pretty good in the next few races.”
TODD STAYS IN WINNER’S CIRCLE: J.R. Todd could get used to this, even if his team is building up plenty of bruises in the process. By knocking off Robert Hight for the first time ever in the Funny Car final round in Houston, Todd claimed his second straight win, which of course meant a second straight celebratory mosh pit from the Kalitta Motorsports team on the starting line.
For his sake, Todd gets to avoid those, blasting away in 3.955 at 313.29 mph to leave the starting line far behind, but he is thrilled with what his DHL Toyota Camry is doing over the fast few weeks.
In what proved to be some tricky conditions to navigate over the weekend, Todd was extremely consistent, staying in the 3.90s for three of his four passes in eliminations. That’s what it takes in an ultra-loaded Funny Car class and Todd, who jumped to third in the points standings, can only hopes it continues.
“It’s nice to have this much momentum early in the season, because we struggled really bad last year,” Todd said. “We didn’t really turn around our season until probably the Western Swing. It’s nice to come out swinging like we are and winning races. That definitely makes (team owner) Connie (Kalitta) happy and it keeps team morale up. It’s good all around. I didn’t expect to have this kind of success, especially this early in the season.”
A FIRST FOR HARTFORD: It had been a long time coming for Matt Hartford and with that in mind, playing the role of spoiler was just fine for him.
Hartford claimed his first career Pro Stock win – and become the 66th different winner in the class – by knocking off Houston-area native Erica Enders in the final round.
Houston marked Hartford’s 80th Pro Stock race and his victory also means five different winners in five races to open the 2018 season. That’s impressive parity in the class, and Hartford was more than ready to enjoy the spoils in the winner’s circle for the first time.
“We started in the back half of the field today and had to work our way through,” Hartford said. “We earned this. We did a better job with our car today than the other teams. My driving is not why we won today and that is a fact. My crew tuned the car enough for us to be able to drive around her [Enders] at the end.”
PHARRIS DOUBLES-UP AT OSCR V: Daniel Pharris had 30,000 reasons to be excited at the conclusion of this weekend’s Outlaw Street Car Reunion V event at Beech Bend Raceway Park.
The standout claimed wins in two classes at the event, which also included the debut of the 2015 Lexus RC-F previously owned by EKanoo Racing, using that striking white car to win in Limited Drag Radial. In that class, Pharris knocked off Shane Stack in the final round with a 4.117 at 189, while he earned a cool $25,000 for his victory in Radial vs. the World in Andrew Alepa’s ’14 Chevrolet Corvette.
He raced to the win in the final round against Jeff Naiser, going 3.73 to win the class at the Outlaw Street Car Reunion for the second straight year.
JIM WHITELEY COMES THROUGH IN NHRA PRO MOD: Houston continues to be very good for NHRA Pro Mod driver Jim Whitely. Fighting through a vicious field, Whiteley won at Royal Purple Raceway for the second time in three years by beating Rick Hord in the final round with his run of 5.834 at 239.14.
Both of Whiteley’s NHRA Pro Mod wins have come in Houston and this was an important one in the loaded class.
After finishing 15th in points a year ago, Whiteley is determined to change that. He’s currently second after two races, beating some massive heavy-hitters to get to the final round. Whiteley’s day started with upending Mike Castellana, following it up with wins against Khalid AlBalooshi and Stevie Jackson, which also gave him holeshot victories in both the semifinals and final rounds.
“This is very special,” Whiteley stated. “We’ve tested and worked our butt off here the last two months. We’ve definitely got a hot rod here. Beating Stevie was just icing on the cake today.”
— Steven Whiteley (@swhiteleyracing) April 22, 2018
KAYLA MORTON WINS REDEMPTION: Morton won the Redemption title in Houston, as the Redemption No Prep Series raced as part of the SpringNationals for the second straight year.
Driving her “Hot Mess Express,” Morton knocked off Barry “the Godfather” Nicholson in the final round, encountering her fair share of problems along the way. She somehow managed to overcome all of them, grabbing a pretty rewarding win (as you can see below) in the process.
Bruder Brothers Go Big At Outlaw Street Car Reunion
Brothers Rich and Nick Bruder stole the show and set the drag racing social media world ablaze thanks to one mind-blowing run at this weekend’s Outlaw Street Car Reunion.
The X275 standouts always have people talking and this was proof of that, as Rich went 4.297 at 171.51 to obliterate the previous record in the class, becoming the first car in X275 to reach the 4.20s. That’s an entirely different subject for another time, but at the very least enjoy the video of a pretty noteworthy accomplishment.
Drag Illustrated Live Episode 95
Last week’s episode had an impressive guest list, including an appearance from Erica Enders, as well as Steven Whiteley, Tyler Crossnoe and a major announcement from Keith Haney.
Long Streak Ends, Struggles Continue For Force
Things are going from bad to worse for 16-time Funny Car champion John Force. A series of explosions and crashes made the start of the season a difficult one, but things didn’t get any easier for the legendary driver after he failed to qualify in Houston, the first time that’s happened since 2008, a span of 222 races.
First, that’s a phenomenal feat and just one of gaudy numbers Force has to his credit.
But it’s also a sign not much has gone Force’s way in 2018, as he currently sits 14th in points. He has also responded amazingly well with his back against the wall, and with plenty of season remaining, it’s way too early to write Force off.
Enders Makes Pro Mod Debut
Sure, she didn’t qualify, but with nearly 30 seasoned Pro Mod veterans on hand, it wasn’t a total shock that Erica Enders just missed qualifying at her NHRA Pro Mod debut in Houston.
But it was certainly a cool moment in time watching the two-time Pro Stock world champ make her first lap in a turbocharged Camaro at 240 mph. Seeing a huge crowd take it in added to the moment as well.
Enders, who had her best Pro Stock showing of the year in advancing to the final round, plans to pull double-duty the rest of the NHRA Pro Mod season, so keeping an eye on her development will be fun to watch.
Cool Views Part I
It wasn’t the weekend Tanner Gray wanted, as he lost in the second round to eventual winner Matt Hartford. But, hey, at least we get this awesome view of Gray, who won earlier this season in Gainesville, making a lap in his Pro Stock car. That’s a pretty cool consolation, as least for us.
Cool Views Part II
Terry McMillen finally found his rhythm this season, advancing to the final round against Force. It’s a good sign for a team that continues to make steps forward. McMillen firmly believes his team of capable of winning plenty more following last year’s first Top Fuel victory in Las Vegas.
McMillen and his team are also capable of providing some killer views during eliminations, including this one from directly behind his 10,000-horsepower dragster.
OSCR V Highlights
There were plenty of additional race highlights at the Outlaw Street Car Reunion, including Jerry Hunt’s win at the debut of the Mid-West Pro Mod Series at the race. Hunt knocked off Jonas Aleshire in the final round, wrapping up a consistent weekend with a $10,000 check.
Bill Lutz grabbed an identical check with his Xtreme 28” No Time Shootout, beating Jay Trisel in the final round.
For race highlights, see below.
Congrats, Houston Winners!
— BrittanyForce (@BrittanyForce) April 23, 2018
Holding that Wally high in Houston! pic.twitter.com/gb644AJ6Q6
— Toyota Racing (@ToyotaRacing) April 22, 2018
— #NHRA (@NHRA) April 23, 2018
Some more fun from the final round and winner circle with Jim Whiteley and the J&A Service team! Congratulations, again. #NHRA #ProMod #SpringNats #TigeBoats #RPM #RealProMod pic.twitter.com/xLxHYKjRdO
— RPM Association (@RealProMod) April 23, 2018
I Believe I Can Fly!
Shawn Langdon with all four wheels in the air. Great pic, but certainly not what he was after.
— #NHRA (@NHRA) April 22, 2018
Redemption No Prep Series Puts On A Show
For the second straight year, the Redemption No Prep Series raced in a special No Prep event at Houston, and the eight-car field again put on a show.
Shannon Morgan and the entire series have done a spectacular job of building an impressive buzz with a dedicated and growing fanbase. That was again evident at Royal Purple Raceway.
Remember when Randy Johnson accidentally pulverized a bird mid-flight with a fastball? Well, Billy Torrence nearly did that at 300-plus mph over the weekend. Luckily, the bird escaped harm, but we do get this sweet shot from Mark Rebilas.
— Mark J. Rebilas (@rebilasphoto) April 22, 2018
An awesome overhead shot from Royal Purple Raceway
The threat of bad weather didn’t keep people away, which was fantastic to see. Lots of fans, lots of cars and a great time had by all!
— Royal Purple Raceway (@Race_RPR) April 22, 2018
A little too much flame
A good weekend didn’t end the way Funny Car’s Jonnie Lindberg wanted, as evidenced by this giant fireball in a second-round loss to defending world champ Robert Hight. The good news is Lindberg stayed in the top 10 and he showed some strong potential, which could bode well in Charlotte.
Things are about to pick up. Houston kicked off three straight weekends of racing for the NHRA and it is definitely seems the organization continues to build momentum and pick up steam in 2018. Great racing, great crowds – even with some potentially bad weather – and some great storylines should have everyone excited heading into Four-Wide, Part Two, this weekend at zMAX Dragway.
Oh, by the way, another 30-plus Pro Mods are scheduled to wreak havoc this weekend as well.
But isn’t it cool when series like the Redemption No Prep Series are included in the weekend, like the WCHRA was the previous event in Las Vegas? It’s a smart nod by the NHRA to realize the groundswell of excitement these series are bringing, and it’s a feel-good moment for drivers and fans alike. It’s one cool way to expand the sport on a national level and that’s never a bad thing.
See you in Charlotte!